Consciousness as we understand it today includes the following
- Humans have a sense of self as an agent that can choose actions based on moral imperatives so that “good” and “evil” appear as concepts.
- Humans have a “spacialised” sense of time that provides a narrative for their individual lives thereby providing purposeful meaning.
- Humans can reflect upon ethical and rational statements and causation and can debate the meaning of events.
- Humans develop universalism, recognising that all human beings are a common species regardless of race or culture.
- Except for Greek rationalism and Chinese process cosmology, meaning and ethical systems still derive their legitimacy from revelations from divine sources which had been later codified, systematised and institutionalised. Even the direct inspiration of such prophets as Jesus and Mohammad still rely upon interpretations of earlier revelations for their authority.
Adopting this definition consciousness can be distinguished from mere thinking and remembering. These characteristics were not found in mankind’s previous symbolic expressions but first appeared in developed form at roughly the same time, 600-500 BCE, in China, India, Egypt, Persia, the Middle East and The Eastern Mediterrean. We have writings claiming to record the ethical-intellectual understandings of Confucius, Lao Tsu and the Dao, Buddha, Zoroaster, Jeremiah, the compilers of the “Old Testament”, Heraclitus and the Ionian philosophers.
Sociologists of Religion like Robert Bellah have recently been examining this socio-cultural-economic and moral phenomenon which is generally called The Axial Age. In the 1970s Julien Jaynes, a psychologist using findings of neuro-scientific research, investigated the nature of consciousness as opposed to simple cognition and memory, and had come to similar conclusions. Later psychologists realised that we are not formed as conscious beings solely by words as the celebrity Parisian post-structuralists and their adherents believe. Linguistic skills are a rather specialised area of the brain. It is now being realised that the learning process is based essentially on Mimesis. In the past only the non-dualistic Stoic materialists held this opinion. Actions and images can speak louder than words unless you have already been spellbound by them. The example of the fanatical intellectual supporters of Nazism and Communism holding responsible teaching positions in the universities demonstrates the danger of the psychological phenomenon of rationalisation which enables individuals who are skilled at manipulating words to justify appalling practices and beliefs. A useful practice is to ignore what leading influential people say and the skilled body language that accompanies their performance and instead to note carefully what they actually do.